Nuggets get stung by Hornets at the Hive

(I know, I know, the title is cheesy and overused but why go creative and really long when you can go short and simple?) The Nuggets dreams of an undefeated season were ended in the Bayou last night as they fell 101-95 to the New Orleans Hornets.  Despite a double-double performance from Carmelo Anthony (24 points and 10 boards) and solid outings from Chauncey (20 pts and 5 dimes) and the surprisingly effective Sheldon Williams (8 pts and 13 rebounds, leading the team in the latter category in back-to-back games), Denver couldn’t complete their second-half comeback. After being down by as much as 14 late in the second quarter, Denver took the lead at one point in the third and then jumped out to a six-point lead with 8 minutes to go in the ballgame. Then Chris Paul took over, dropping 10 points and 3 dimes in the last 10 minutes, and David West hit a couple tough fade-away jumpers over Al Harrington to seal the win.

The Nuggets jumped out to a great start early, going up 8-0 and looking good on D, forcing contested jumpers from the Hornets. Then Sheldon and Nene let Okafor have his way in the middle on both sides of the ball, and Emeka had some easy layups and forced contested shots in the paint. Nene knocked down a couple of 18-footers (showing some extended range that this Nuggets fan didn’t know he had) to help the bigs’ cause, but then the pick-and roll defense on Paul (and later Jerryd Bayless and Willie Green) started to fall apart. NOLA’s guards were getting into the paint WAY too easy, leading to some easy buckets (Green’s baseline slam and J-Bay’s and-1 layup on JR) and kick-outs for threes (Marcus Thornton hit back-to-back threes to stretch the Hornets’ lead to 14).

On the positive side Ty Lawson made Chris Paul look like Anthony Carter (which isn’t easy to do), burning him to the basket a few times and doing a respectable job distributing the rock. And despite his struggles on the defensive end, Al Harrington looks good off the bench, giving the 2nd unit some semblance of offense when JR struggles to find his shot.

In the second half Melo took over, hitting his patented mid-range jumpers and getting to the basket a few times as well. And as one RMC writer predicted in his season preview ( I won’t be doing too much self-promotion, I promise) Aaron Afflalo continues to break out of his shell, hitting some shots when his teammates can’t find the range; if he can prove to/remain a viable threat on offense, it will make this team much more dangerous late in games and allow George Karl to keep him in for defense while not losing anything on the offensive end. And while all you JR Swish fans may grimace when I say this, it’s a good thing for this team when Afflalo is in the game late and getting starters minutes over JR, because I’m 99% sure he will not be a Nugget next year.

Next up for the Nuggets is the Houston Rockets, who will welcome Denver to the Toyota Center for their home opener tonight at 6:30 MST. Houston is coming off back-to-back road losses to open the season in two very winnable games against the Lakers and Warriors. Denver needs to play better D against Luis Scola then they did against D-West, because as good as West’s mid-range game is, Scola is a much better back-to-the-basket player, can hit the hook shot with either hand, and is a better passer (which means watch out for the kickout to Kevin Martin or Aaron Brooks). Houston has some absolute snipers on the perimeter  (the aforementioned K-Mart and Brooks), and even if one is cold the other could easily drop 30+.

They signed Erick Dampier yesterday to join Yao and Brad Miller at center, so Nene and Sheldon will have to step it up even more with Rick Adelman being able to rotate those guys at will to keep his bigs fresh. If Denver can control the penetrate and kick better than they did last night, keep their bigs out of foul trouble (so Melvin Ely isn’t matched up with Scola) and get some offensive production from their bench (I’m talking to you JR…and Al needs 15+ too) they have a great chance of coming back home 1-1 on their mini-roadtrip before they welcome Dallas to “The Can” on Wednesday night.

“I feel it’s a time for change”

With one simple sentence Carmelo Anthony essentially eviscerated the excitement from the Nuggets opening night undressing of the Jazz.  The Nuggets have held out hope that getting Carmelo into Denver and reminding him how good the team can be would sway him towards remaining a Nugget  for at least the duration of the current season.

Time to move on to plan ‘B’.

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Talking with Koz

The Denver Nuggets toiled in relative obscurity this preseason.  Unless you attended one of the two home games or had NBATV to check out the lone televised contest with the Los Angeles Lakers you did not see a second of Nuggets basketball.

One man saw it all and he is Jason Kosmicki the radio voice of the Nuggets.  Koz was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for us and inform Nuggets fans of what they might have missed leading up to the season.

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2010-11 Game 1: Denver Nuggets 110 – Utah Jazz 88

Box Score | Highlights

The Denver Nuggets absolutely dismantled division rival and playoff foil Utah in the opening game of the 2010-11 season.  There were several good things to take out of the game, but the number one aspect of the beat down for Nuggets fans to be most excited about is the way the Nuggets defended.

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2010-11 Game 1: Denver Nuggets vs Utah Jazz

For all we know Carmelo Anthony could be playing for another team tomorrow, but today the despised Utah Jazz are in town which means the Denver Nuggets will be focused on one thing, taking them out.

The Jazz have made significant changes to their roster, some voluntary, some not.  Gone are Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, Wesley Matthews  and replacing them are Al Jefferson and Raja Bell.  Some observers believe the Jazz are better.  I am not one of them.

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What to expect from the Nuggets…not named Billups or Anthony

Ok Nuggets fans, the opening tip is less than 24 hours away and number 15 is still in a Nuggets uniform. Whether or not he stays in powder blue and gold for the entire season is a debate for another day; for now lets look at what to expect from each player this season.

When it comes to Melo, Nuggets fans can expect more of the same from his past seven years in the NBA. Look for a stat line of 27 points, 6.5 boards and over three dimes a game (basically you’re your typical Melo averages).

I’m also going to say Chauncey will be his reliable self this year, regardless of what happens to Melo or the rest of this team. The guy has gotten better over 30 (which is rare in itself, but for a point guard, that’s unheard of) and dropped a career-best average 19.5 PPG in 09’. Look for Billups’ scoring to drop to the 16-17 range but I think his assists will jump back into the 8-9 range (his 5.6 APG last year was his lowest since the 04-05 season). The guy is a model of consistency, and from one Buff to another, here’s hoping “Mr. Big Shot” regains that mantle with some big makes this season.

But to be perfectly honest, those are the only two Nuggets whose performances you can “pencil in”. The other 12 players on the roster and their contributions range from semi-reliable to complete question marks. What will these guys add to the team-lets start with the “no-names”.

The “No-Names”

Gary Forbes, F, 6-7, 1st year

A pretty decent pre-season culminated with a 25-point explosion against Phoenix in the Nugs last exhibition game. He’d normally start the year on the IR (buried on the bench) but will definitely see some minutes in the first part of the season. Regardless of his tenure as a Nugget it was nice to see the former UMass star and walk-on make the team with his efficient scoring off the bench.

Melvin Ely, F-C, 6-10, 8th year

The former New Orleans Hornet and most recently Sacramento King also made the team without a guaranteed contract, and he will also see some playing time with the injuries to Birdman and K-Mart (he may even start if Nene’s knee starts to bother him again). The key thing for Ely will be rebounding; he doesn’t do it very well. His best overall season was back in 2006 with Charlotte when he averaged 9.8 points and 4.8 boards a game. With not a lot of frontcourt depth (due to injury) and with Al Harrington going to be outside to stretch the defense, Ely, Sheldon Williams and Nene are going to be counted on to carry the rebounding load. If he can grab 5+ boards a game and play decent defense on other team’s bigs, he’ll have done his job.

Renaldo Balkman, F, 6-8, 5th year

I’ve never been a big Renaldo Balkman fan, and apparently George Karl’s feelings for him have waned over the past 2+ years. After being a key part of the rotation in 2009 (even getting 10 starts that year) he played in only 13 games a year ago. He, like Forbes, will play due to injury, but he’d be my bet to move to the IR when the Bird and K-Mart come back.

The Question Marks

Shelden Williams, PF-C, 6-9, 5th year

Who wouda thought that Shelden Williams would be the starting power forward for the Nuggets a year ago (heck, who woulda thought that a month ago?). But thanks to George Karl’s insistence that Big Al (can I call him that or is that reserved for Al Jefferson?) comes off the bench, we will indeed see Mr. Williams on the first unit against the Jazz on Wednesday. Now Shelden has put up some impressive stat lines this pre-season (27 and 8 vs Phoenix, 14 and 6 vs the Clippers), but then again, this is Shelden Williams, the same guy who was a HUGE bust as the fifth overall pick by the Hawks in 06’. So I won’t rush to a judgment and say his above-average play is an aberration, but I’m also not going to say it’s a sign of things to come. If he can post 9 points and 6+ boards a game as a starter, I’m not sure you can ask for much more.

Kenyon Martin, PF, 6-9, 11th year

Before his injury troubles a year ago, K-Mart was posting some pretty disgusting numbers for the Nugs. In the months of January and February, Martin posted consecutive monthly averages of over 12.5 points and 11 rebounds. Over that stretch, the Nuggets went 19-8 and were poised for a top 3 record in the Western Conference. After he got hurt, the Nuggets were not the same. Now with Al Harrington in town to soak up some significant minutes and his $16 million contract coming off the books, K-Mart is highly expendable. When the Nuggets refused to talk contract-extension, K-Mart showed signs of discontent, and if that continues over the course of the season, the “dark side” of K-Mart, combined with JR’s proclivity to blow up and the Melo situation, it could spell disaster for Denver. Here’s hoping K-Mart to a speedy recovery and that he accepts a lesser role (and lesser minutes) for the sake of team chemistry…and sanity.

Nene, C, 6-11, 9th year

I was going to put Nene in the next category, but I (and the rest of Nuggets nation) am holding out hope that he finally breaks out and enters that next tier of NBA centers (ie Chris Kaman, Brook Lopez). I’m talking 18+ points and 10+ rebounds; it’s possible, Nene definitely has the talent to do it, the question is will he get the touches and opportunity to come through? With Harrington brought in and JR to soak up plenty of shots, it will be interesting to see if they’ll be enough touches to go around. But mark my words; the Nuggets success this season will hinge largely on if Nene can make that step forward. If not, it may be time to explore other options down low.

Same Old, Same Old

Anthony Carter, PG, 6-2, 12th year

Um, not much to say here; if AC is still seeing decent minutes in this rotation, something’s wrong. It’s Mr. Lawson’s turn as the backup point and AC should be reduced to a garbage-time role. He’ll be asked to provide leadership to the sophomore and will probably see the court in a defensive situation at the end of halves…but that should be it.

Chris Andersen, C, 6-10, 9th year

The Birdman is out until December, which means Nuggets fans at the Can (Pepsi Center, that’s pretty clever right?) won’t get to see Andersen swat shots and flap those wing-like arms after dunks for a while. The Nugs will miss his energy, shot-blocking ability and paint intimidation (especially to driving guards) while he’s out, but when he comes back expect typical Birdman numbers- 7-8 PPG, 6-7 RPG, 2-3 BPG.

JR Smith, SG, 6-6, 7th year

This may be the last year we’ll see JR Swish in a Nugets uni, so I hope he makes it a memorable one. Is a mid-season trade in the cards if Denver wants another quality big man…perhaps. But if he can up his field goal (41%) and three-point (34%, down from 40% in 09’) percentage and team with Lawson, Harrington and eventually Bird to form a solid second-unit, Nuggets fans should be happy. He’ll stay under 20 PPG, but 17-19 a game isn’t out of reach.

Look Out, Here They Come

Aaron Afflalo, SG, 6-5, 4th year

The first of my three Nuggets to watch out for this year is Aaron, who I think will exceed 10 PPG for the first time in his career and shoot even better from beyond the arc (43% last season). He performed his role as the perimeter defensive stopper and outside shooter very well last year, and as long as gets a little more aggressive on offense while keeping up his intensity on defense, he’ll be a player to look out for.

Ty Lawson, PG, 5-11, 2nd year

How good could this guy be? The sky’s the limit for Ty, who will see his minutes increase as Karl will try to preserve Chauncey’s 34-year old legs. Expect Ty’s point (8.3) and assist (3.1) totals to increase, and if the Nuggets continue to push the pace when he’s in the game, both Lawson and his teammates will benefit.

Al Harrington, F, 6-9, 13th year

Yeah I know, how can a guy who just turned 30 and is entering his 13th NBA season (no that’s not a misprint) have a breakout season? Because he’s entering the perfect situation with a style of play and surrounding cast that perfectly suits his game. In the offseason Nuggets fans wanted a defensive stopper as the team’s “big” free-agent acquisition; guys like Udonis Haslem, Jeff Foster and Jermaine O’Neal were tossed around as ideas, guys whose scoring isn’t considered their strong suit. But here’s a guy who’s played for crappy teams in Indiana, Golden State and New York for most of his career and has never had a facilitator to get him the ball (he’s always had to create his own shot). He hasn’t played for a contender in years, and if he’s on the floor with Melo, Chauncey, JR or Nene (or any combination of those guys) the defense will focusing their attention elsewhere. He can be a stretch four (PF) to clear room in the paint with his three-point shooting or an oversized three (SF) that can take his man to the rim. I foresee a BIG season for Big Al in the Big D (that’s a lot of bigs) and if Denver’s frontcourt has its struggles, it won’t be because of him.

Whether you agree with me or not on the season outlook for Denver’s roster, I hope we can at least all agree that Chauncey and Melo are a pretty formidable one-two punch and despite what ESPN’s experts may say, this squad has a chance to compete for a conference championship. They just need to have some things go their way and develop a tight enough chemistry (one like the Lakers or Thunder have) to go with the talent on the roster. Oh, and not trading Carmelo would help too.

Here Comes the 2010-11 NBA Season!

With the 2010-11 NBA season here I was reflecting back on all the posts I intended to pen before today.  I decided to compile the answers I provided for the ESPN.com Summer Forecast (if you missed it or simply want to take a lap around the summer pool for a refresher, click on this link and follow the links on the sidebar for the other sets of predictions).  I do not get to write about the league as a whole as much as I would like and this is my chance to dazzle you all with my significant knowledge of teams other than the Nuggets.  Or not.  Well, here we go anyway.

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Al Harrington Defensive Scouting Report

The big offseason acquisition for the Denver Nuggets was Al Harrington.  With Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen out of the lineup for a month or two to start the season Harrington is expected to play big minutes for Denver.  Despite the fact that fellow newcomer Shelden Williams has been tabbed as the opening night starter alongside Nene, I expect Harrington to play some big minutes.

In anticipation of that we have dedicated two editions of the Roundball Mining Company Film Room to Al’s abilities.  We analyzed Harrington’s offensive game a couple of months ago.  Now we present to you the highly anticipated film room session on Harrington’s ability as a defender.

Early in his career with the Indiana Pacers Harrington actually played the role of defensive stopper as he fought to find a role on a stacked squad.  Now entering his 13th season Harrington has established himself as a prolific scorer, but what impact as age and role played on his defense?

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Getting Carmelo, the Nuggets and Knicks What They All Want

The Indian Summer of Carmelo is certainly looking as if it could drag well into the winter at which point I will have to come up with a different name for it.  We have studied potential trade partners, what location gives Carmelo the best opportunity to win and how the Nuggets are hoping to convince Carmelo to stay as the season is drawing ever closer.  We have wasted hours of our lives dwelling on something that has not even happened and I know most everyone is burned out by it.

For all the pixels that have been pushed to the brink of burning out from all the multitude of words that have been written about Carmelo’s future I have a hair brained scheme that I believe has not appeared on anyone’s screen up till now.  I have a plan to land Carmelo Anthony a boat full of cash, allow the Nuggets to keep him in Denver for the entirety of 2010-11 to see how far this team can go and then Melo will have the freedom to sign with whomever he pleases when the NBA returns to action.

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Revisiting Efficiency and Carmelo Anthony

The analysis of the quality of shots Carmelo Anthony attempts compared to some of the other elite offensive swingmen in the league garnered quite a bit of attention and also quite a bit of feedback from readers.

First of all, I would like to simply clarify what I was attempting to convey.  The efficiency with which Carmelo Anthony scores is lower than expected for a player of his skill level to the point people are beginning to question his ability.  Based on my observations the gap between Carmelo and other players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant is his propensity to attempt a larger percentage of challenged shots than his fellow star scorers.

I believe I accomplished that through my study, but it was a limited and very basic look at a complex subject.  Because of that I wanted to address some of the questions and comments that were posed to me.

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How Can Carmelo Anthony Possibly be Inefficient?

We are all well aware of the colloquialism “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”  Beauty is subjective.   We can certainly develop a general consensus of what is beautiful, but we cannot remove the human element of subjectivity.  I attended college in Indiana for two years and being from Colorado I was quite unimpressed with the features of the Indiana landscape, there was a friend of mine who was determined to convince me that a flat horizon was prettier than a jagged one.  Truthfully, there is beauty in both the mountains as well in the distant horizon.  Was one of us right, or more right than the other?  That is a question that has no answer.

Some of the world’s great thinkers have tried to determine a scientific or mathematic formula to define physical beauty.  Even if one day a formula is developed that can prove who is beautiful and who does not make the cut people will continue to debate the physical qualities of those around us.  For every Stanley Hudson, there is a Sir Mix-A-Lot.

When you apply statistics and formulas to something a subjective characteristic, there is always room for dissent.  That is the crux of the stats versus scouting discussion.  While some believe numbers never lie others will never accept a string of data to contradict what their hearts and eyes tell them, even if it is corrupted by alcohol.

Beauty may be fun to talk about and more fun to ogle, but this is a blog about basketball.  Unlike with beauty, statistics and formulas can paint a very comprehensive picture of what a player can or cannot do.  The statistics tell us that Carmelo Anthony is not an efficient scorer.  While his 28.2 points per game seem to suggest he is an elite scorer, numerous other stats decry that assertion as preposterous.  Whether it is his pedestrian 45.8% shooting, his mediocre 54.6% true shooting percentage, or his league average 1.07 points per possession we have ample evidence that Carmelo is inefficient and when we subjectively look at what he does we are misled in thinking he is an immensely talented and versatile scoring machine.

This has troubled me greatly.  I believe in the statistics.  I know that efficiency is not a subjective matter, but a clear cut numeric certainty.  I was one of the first people to decry Melo’s lack of efficiency.

On the other hand, I have seen every professional game Carmelo Anthony has played.  The man was put on earth to make buckets.  He is big, strong, quick, he can shoot off a jab step, he can shoot off the dribble, he can drive with either hand, even though he rarely finishes with his left, he does not reflect the meager abilities of the volume scorer some are making him out to be.  My eyes see all he can do and I cannot believe that Carmelo Anthony is significantly worse offensively than the other more statically efficient superstars in the league.

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Northwest Division in the Spotlight

The Northwest Division was recently featured in the annual CelticsBlog season preview smörgåsbord and you can peruse the various posts from the list of links below:

How will Big Al fit in out in Utah?  Will the Blazers stay healthy?  Will Melo still be a Nugget on opening night?  Can the Thunder avoid a sophomore slump?  Just what is the plan in ‘Sota?  All this and more in the Northwest previews.

Jazz : SLC DunkSalt City HoopsSBN Recap

Nuggets: Denver StiffsRoundball Mining CompanyThe Nugg DoctorSBN Recap

Thunder - Welcome to Loud CityPlanet BBallSBN Recap

Timberwolves - Canis HoopusTwolvesBlog

Blazers - Blazersedge.comSBN Recap

Recaps: All Previews

Daily Dime Live also spent a day on the Northwest where the consensus was that it will be probably the toughest division in the league, as least as long as Melo dons the garb of the Nuggets, and the Thunder are getting a little too much hype, a statement I do not agree with.  You can follow all the heavy hitting analysis right here.

Sorry for my lack of posts recently, but I am working on a research intensive post which requires me to watch a lot of film.  I think it will be well worth the wait.  I also have the long promised defensive scouting report of Al Harrington waiting in the queue so look for that soon as well.

Denver Nuggets Kick Off the Preseason

Before we get to the meat and potatoes that is the Denver Nuggets first preseason game I want to dish out a couple of hors d’oeuvres.

First of all, the 2010-11 Basketball Prospectus has been published.  Once again I had the honor of playing a small role, OK, a very small role, in the chapter on the Nuggets.  This is an incredible publication and if you are a fan of basketball, advanced stats, or would like to understand advanced stats a little better, you will love this book.  You can order it in PDF format, or in old school paperback.  I recommend buying both.

Secondly, ESPN.com is running a Daily Dime featuring every division and Tuesday, October 12 is the Northwest Division’s turn.  I would love for you guys to join me from 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM Mountain time, because a chat without questions from readers is like a bris without a scalpel.  I will toss up a link when I have one and I look forward to chatting with you all.  Update: The Northwest Division Daily Dime Live page has been posted.  Gird your loins for a great day of chatting.

Those were tasty, now on to the main course.

The Denver Nuggets kicked off the 2010-11 preseason in style by thrashing the Portland Trail Blazers 109-99.  The real news was that it was basically business as usual at the Pepsi Center.

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A Pre-Season Season Preview

Below you will find my submission for this year’s Celtics Blog preview-palooza.  It is a little silly to write a season preview seeing as how we have no idea what will happen with Carmelo.  Regardless, it was fun to write and I recommend you head over to Celtics Blog to read the other Nuggets previews (update: the Nuggets previews have not been posted as of yet so keep checking back).  Up-update: links to the other Nuggets previews from Nate at Denver Stiffs and the Nugg Doctor are posted.

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Kenyon Martin Wants a Contract Extension

If you say the name Kenyon Martin to a Denver Nuggets fan, you are likely setting yourself up for a tirade.  It could be a mini-tirade, or it could be an overly verbose tirade.  Most fans have a difficult time looking past the massive 7 year, $92 million contract that Kiki Vandeweghe gave Martin as part of a sign and trade with the Nets back in the summer of 2004.

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